By LILY ROBERTS
From people who put up posters, to maintenance, cleaning and security services, informal and formal traders, and street buskers, the Festival is an annual winter bonanza for Makhanda. This year it will be different, writes Lillian Roberts.
The National Arts Festival has done one of the only things possible in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and in a show of extraordinary resilience is preparing to stage a virtual edition. This re-imagining of the iconic event now in its 46th year means artists and traders can benefit from access to an online marketplace and audience.
But no foot traffic in Makhanda means dozens of local businesses and entrepreneurs will lose out.
A study done in 2013 by the Rhodes Economics Department, spearheaded by Professor Jen Snowball and Professor Geoff Antrobus, found that the National Arts Festival contributed approximately R349.9m annually to the economy of the Eastern Cape. Festival-goers spend R27.3m entering and exiting the province, with the Festival contributing approximately R90m to the GDP of Makhanda yearly in job creation, tourism, and expenditure, the study found.
More recent research conducted in 2019 values the revenue for Makhanda at R85.9 million and R214,9 million for the Eastern Cape, said Festival spokesperson, Sascha Polkey.
Polkey said the decision to go online had been difficult, with many challenges expected which they are running into now.
But factors behind the loss of revenue were much bigger than the Festival or Makhanda.
“It is important to note that this loss of direct revenue to the city and the province is not only a function of the Festival not having a live edition, but also the cancellation of all events across the country and the mandatory shut down of all hospitality businesses, among others,” Polkey said. “The actual value is really hard to estimate at this stage given what the Festival hopes to generate in media coverage, and of course new audiences for 2021, but we will be doing research to try and estimate the impact as best as we can.”
In normal times, the National Arts Festival directly employs approximately 1000 local people during Festival. In order to mitigate the effects of this job loss, the Festival plans to employ additional staff on contract for online support and box office functions of the virtual Festival.
The Festival team plans to set up the Monument as a production venue in terms of the directive issued by the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture on 4 May 2020, and so continue engaging the services of local companies and technicians based in Makhanda.
Detailing the implications of the Stage 4 lockdown regulations on the arts, Nathi Mthethwa, said local content production for streaming without audiences is permitted, subject to strict health and safety conditions and with the proviso that “hese productions should somehow add storylines in support of Covid-19 safety measures”.
”The Festival team will also be working with decentralised venues across the country to produce performances for pre-recording and live streaming, so we will also be working with nationally based technical support teams and companies to do this work,” Polkey said.
The online iteration of the Festival meant artists and some of their teams would be able to make money and promote their work through the established NAF network.
“It also means that South African arts will be able to reach a much bigger audience internationally,” Polkey said.
The value for the city, province and artists of the Eastern Cape will be a showcase of talent, innovation and creativity to these audiences from all over the world. While we are physically away this year, we will be extending our reach and hopefully bringing global audiences and artists back to Makhanda and the Eastern Cape when we can all travel and gather again.”
‘A great loss to the community’
Grocott’s Mail spoke to some of those who will be affected by the absence of a live event this year.
Philippa Irvine – organiser of the Supurban Market and Sunnyside Street Festival
“The obvious streams of income like accommodation and restaurants will be affected, but there are less obvious ways in which this will happen.
“Think of suppliers, supermarkets, small local business or residents who find an increased demand for their goods and services during the 11 days of the festival. There are many informal revenue streams for people during this time and a lot more money in circulation across the community. It will have a ripple effect for sure. The devastating impact of Covid-19 and Lockdown will be compounded unfortunately.”
“Beside the economic impact of the festival, it is a great loss to the community. Festival is such a vibrant and exciting time. It is a thing that the community looks forward to – we get to show off our city and celebrate the arts.”
The R50 000 that the Johan Carinus Arts Centre usually makes from hosting exhibitions and workshops during the National Arts Festival is an important boost to the small subsidy it receives from the Department of Education.
The Johan Carinus Art Centre
The Centre caters for learners from public schools Graeme College, Victoria Girls’ High and Hoërskool PJ Olivier. During the Festival, they host art exhibitions for 15 local Eastern Cape artists, as well as workshops.
Without the live version of the Festival, said spokesperson Michelle Kloppers, the art centre would be short of around R50 000 to boost their state subsidy.
Nadia Van de Walt – owner, The Washing Well laundry service
“We rely on Festival to get through the quieter months, and we would have to readjust finances to survive through the year. As a small business already on the breadline, this loss could be detrimental.”
With the lockdown regulations, income for the business was zero, Van der Walt said. Festival usually boosted turnover by up to 30% for the month thanks to visitors staying at AirBnBs, and caterers.
To try to sustain her staff and business, Nadia started a backabuddy campaign, where the public are asked to donate to the business so the 13 all-women staff and rent can be paid during lockdown. The Washing Well has pledged to make 500 masks to donate to the community. You can support them here: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/washing-well .
Louise Boy – Owner, Red Café restaurant
“The overriding concern is Covid-19 and how we are all managing to navigate and adapt to the crisis,” Boy said. Many local businesses had had to innovate.
Deliveries started on Monday 18 May, and while it was a learning curve, the team was raring to go. Red Café is open to recommendations for the menu. They have set up crowd funding for the waiter staff and you can find the details to support here: https://www.facebook.com/redcafemakhanda/
Riana Meiring – Director of Local Economic Development and Planning at Makana Municipality
Meiring said there would inevitably be adverse effects for the town as a result of the Festival going online, but this was part of the overall effect on the local economy of the lockdown.
‘The Municipality is assisting communities and SMMEs to access the Covid-19 support packages offered by national government. The effect of COVID-19 is devastating on the economy and we are working with the Grahamstown Business Foundation and all relevant government departments to try and mitigate the adverse effects.”
Makana Municipality does not actively fund Festival activities, but is critical in providing services and other support before and during the Festival.
Ayanda Kota – Unemployed People’s Movement
COVID-19 was exacerbating the already serious effects of Makhanda’s 70% unemployment rate, Kota said. “Unemployment translates to inequality, poverty, and immense hunger.
“We all know this city has long collapsed so [the Festival is]something that you need to inject the local economy. You needed it for the spin-offs, to say, despite this crisis of the city you are still able to stage this very wonderful and magnificent world festival.”
Richard Gaybba – Chairperson, Grahamstown Business Forum
“The hospitality industry may be devastatingly hit if a business is already on the breadline, but it’s the informal buskers or those who do piece-work who will face the question of whether they eat or not,” Gaybba said.
He said groups such as the Makhanda Circle of Unity were holding webinars to innovate and ‘pivot’ in light of Covid-19, examining alternatives with less reliance on big events such as the Festival, or institutions such as Rhodes. “There is only so much pivoting that can be done, realistically if one is on the breadline, though.”
Currently they have been focused on damage control and attending to basic human needs, for example through co-ordinating city-wide feeding programmes.
“The grim reality is that according to UCT research, 50 million people cannot take preventative measures against Covid-19, while 7 million can and Makhanda is a microcosm of South Africa.”
Fundraisers for local businesses and restaurants were necessary, but not a long-term solution, and other contingencies needed to be discussed, as well as stricter adherence to labour laws. Gaybba acknowledges the difficulties of accessing the special Covid-19 unemployment insurance fund provisions for employees, and said the Department of Employment and Labour’s Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) application process was a ‘nightmare’.
And the artists…
In theory, some artists should be able to benefit from the R150m Artists Relief Fund. At the end of March, the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture explained how the R150m Artists Relief Fund would be allocated. Among other conditions was that only those with fixed-term contracts were eligible, leaving freelancers high and dry. The deadline for proposals for relief was 4 May 2020.
HOW THE VIRTUAL FESTIVAL WILL WORK
The National Arts Festival team has been holding virtual meetings with stakeholders to explain how the virtual edition will work, with the first hosted by Business and Arts South Africa CEO Ashraf Johaardien. To hear how the Festival made the decision to go virtual rather than postpone or cancel, you can listen to the full webinar here: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/virtual-naf/vnaf-webinar1-reportback/, or read this summary of the discussion: https://www.grocotts.co.za/2020/04/24/national-arts-festival-team-explains-digital-format/ The Village Green will become the ‘Virtual Green’ and Cathedral Market vendors will be encouraged to join the Virtual Village Green, with details to be announced soon, says Festival spokesperson Sascha Polkey.
Artistic Director Rucera Seethal says the “Ideas forum”, is a space for artists to propose solutions to artistic challenges, provide support for equipment/space, and submit proposals for digital work and existing digital work. Find it here: https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/artist-zone/virtual-naf20-ideas/.
Online Rights, Royalties & Obligations – Webinar 8 May 2020 can be found here:
90% of ticket proceeds will go to artists themselves, and all artists wanting to participate in the vFringe can visit the Artist Zone on the National Arts Festival website : https://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/artist-zone/2020-vfringe-guide/